ISU Researchers Advocate Providing Pain Relief at Castration; Study Cites Animal Health and Welfare Benefits

Dr. Hans Coetzee, College of Veterinary Medicine, (515) 294-7424
Ms. Tracy Raef, College of Veterinary Medicine, (515) 294-4602 

December 5, 2011

Researchers from Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine completed a study demonstrating for the first time that providing pain relief to calves before castration reduces the incidence of disease over 28 days after the procedure.

Castration of bulls intended for beef production is a common livestock management procedure in the United States, amounting to approximately seven million procedures per year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While the benefits of castration include improved meat quality and fewer injuries in feedlots, castration in weaned calves is painful and stressful, increasing susceptibility to diseases such as bovine respiratory disease.

Currently in the United States there are no products specifically approved for pain relief in cattle. Available products may not be practical or economical for routine use because they require intravenous injection and the cost of providing pain relief is not offset by improved health or performance.

The findings of the study suggest that using pain relievers prior to castration in weaned calves is cost-effective because the number of calves that will require antibiotics for pneumonia after castration is decreased. Thus the impact of bovine respiratory disease in livestock production systems is lessened.

“The results of the study will help veterinarians and producers develop pain-reduction protocols that will address animal health and welfare concerns,” said Dr. Hans Coetzee, associate professor at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Coetzee, along with ISU colleagues Dr. Annette O’Connor and Bing Wang, conducted the study in collaboration with researchers from Kansas State University. The study was supported by the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program and examined whether oral administration of meloxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, during processing improves the health and performance of calves after castration. The findings of the study, Effect of oral meloxicam on health and performance of beef steers relative to bulls castrated upon arrival at the feedlot, was published online in the Journal of Animal Science, September 30, 2011.